Using Touchless™ Monitoring For Oil and Gas - The Upstream, Midstream, and Downstream Applications of Thermal and Visual Sensors

The oil & gas industry faces increasing public, investor, and regulatory pressure to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, improve workplace safety, and mitigate the environmental impact of activities across the production process.

At the same time, much of the equipment, personnel, and technologies used by the industry operate in challenging environments and harsh conditions.

Instead of relying solely on physical inspections and manual monitoring methods, the oil & gas industry can leverage Touchless™ Monitoring solutions that provide a continuous, 24/7 view of critical assets.

This article will introduce three common applications of thermal and visual sensors across the upstream, midstream, and downstream stages of production and distribution.

Upstream - Intelligent Thermography

Manual inspections require personnel to be in the right place at the right time. Minor issues, such as small leaks or temperature variations, can easily be overlooked or occur between inspections. As a result, these unmonitored and undetected issues can grow to result in catastrophic failure and cause serious environmental and safety concerns.

This is especially challenging in remote or difficult-to-access drilling locations, such as offshore oil platforms. Offshore drilling produces around 1.7 million barrels of oil per day in the US - or around 14 percent of total production. Transporting workers to these sites is costly and dangerous, and is often made more difficult by the ongoing shortages of skilled labour required for these roles.

Intelligent thermography allows oil & gas companies to remotely monitor the health and performance of critical assets, components, and equipment. By measuring hot and cold spots, temperature gradients, and the speed of temperature variations, the Operations & Maintenance teams can identify potential issues and conduct preventative, condition-based maintenance.

In one example, real-time alarms allowed operators to correct issues before a failure occurred, leading to a potential 20 percent decrease in breakdowns.

Midstream - Tank Levelling and Spill Detection

Bulk liquid storage tanks present unique challenges to oil & gas companies. High volumes of volatile compounds make inspecting and maintaining these facilities difficult, while spills, leaks, or overflows can result in significant environmental damage and loss of product.

In the past, workers would have to manually climb to the top of the tank to check the level, creating serious health and safety issues.

Instead, radiometric thermal imaging sensors allow operators to quantify and visualize the liquid in the tank, measure fuel temperatures, and evaluate conditions for pressure build-up and leaks.

Min/max threshold level alarms ensure maximum loading is being met but not exceeded, preventing overflow and accidents and creating a safer overall environment.

Finally, the sensors provide early detection of spills or leaks, reducing the loss of valuable product and mitigating the risk of costly regulatory penalties.

Downstream - Flare Monitoring

Flares are a necessary part of oil and gas processes to burn off waste and provide emergency pressure relief. According to the IEA, around 140 bcm of natural gas is flared each year.

Generally, flaring is used to minimize the volume of volatile and powerful gasses, such as methane, released into the atmosphere by converting them into CO2. Improperly managed and maintained, flares can release toxic, combustible, and potent materials into the atmosphere.

These social, environmental, and safety concerns, as well as regulatory and compliance requirements, mean that operators must be able to continuously monitor both the pilot and main flare. Existing manual methods can be unreliable, especially for detecting invisible flares, smoke and other pollutants, and intermittent changes in flare behaviour.

Infrared sensors can monitor the operating levels of flare stacks. Thermal alarms automatically alert crews if the pilot flame fails, ensuring the safe operation of the flare and the presence of an ignition source for flared gasses. The thermal imaging sensors can detect and visualize invisible flares, identify if flares are burning higher, lower, hotter, or cooler than expected. They can early detect liquid carryover (burning rain) and monitor multiple flare stacks from a safe distance. 

Improving Safety, Emissions, and Compliance With Touchless™ Monitoring

Traditional physical monitoring approaches are no longer suited to the hazardous, corrosive, and extreme environments that oil and gas facilities typically operate in. While some manual processes will always be needed to diagnose and repair issues, Touchless™ Monitoring systems provide a safer and more effective solution for monitoring, finding faults and generating alarms.  

Explosion-proof and certified for the oil & gas industry, these sensors provide continuous, 24/7 monitoring of critical assets. Deployed across the production process, thermal and visual sensors minimize product loss due to leaks, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, increase the visibility of remote sites, and improve the safety and security of personnel.